The tale of Sweet Allie – Sailing Day 3

It gets rather confusing because there are sailing days and down days, and much of the action occurs on sailing days. I woke up Wed morning and went up on deck to look around. Last night was the first time I had anchored alone and I really wanted to see where I was. I remembered the lights, and by daylight discovered that it was a huge nuclear power plant. I had anchored off shore about ½ mile from the plant on the eastern / NJ side of the Delaware river. On the Navionics chart I had puzzled over little fish symbols. Looking around I understood what they were, I was right in the middle of a crab field. All around me were little floats, neatly laid out in a very precise square grid, each float about 100 feet from the next float. I’m thinking to myself how lucky I was not to snag a rope coming in.

Much later I would learn that my the full keel of my boat was a fairly reasonable protection from snags such as these. Unlike a fin keel and a skeg rudder, the bottom of my boat is smoothly contoured from front to back, allowing such ropes to just slide along the keel and right off the back. My rudder is attached at the bottom to the keel and again this certainly helped prevent lines from snagging on the bottom of my boat. And finally, the propeller and shaft exit the boat into a somewhat protected area ½ way up the rudder / hull attachment area. Certainly not a guarantee that nothing could wrap around the prop, but much less likely than a prop jutting out into the water

So in the pitch blackness of the night I had ventured about a quarter mile into an area of crab pots with floats all around me. Looking at the charts and my GPS location of the boat I was deep into the crabbing field. And I assumed that I was at high risk of snagging one of the hundreds of lines leading down to the bay floor. And I also visions in my head of crab fishermen not too happy with me being in “their” crab field. So I quickly raised anchor and weaved my way back out into the river, doing my best to avoid running over, or even coming close to those little floats. It was a long way back out and I did the idle crawl thing for the better part of a half hour.

Now I’m constantly worried. Those little fishies were everywhere on the Navionics chart and I’m now thinking that they are all crab pots and potential snag lines. I’m thinking back to that quiet cruise up the river last night, and how many of these float thingies I had run right directly over. Ignorance is bliss, and I was now educated and my bliss was gone. And I was spending waaaaay too much time now watching out for crab fields on my charts.

I am a database analyst / programmer by trade, and my client called with an order I needed to process. My phone is a wireless hotspot and I had brought a laptop so I could do my work. What I had managed to leave behind in NC was a mouse, though I did not know this yet.

I motored up the river to a little island off the west side of the river, part of the Augustine Wildlife area I think. I really wanted to slide in behind the island well out of traffic but I was chicken. Remember that this was my third day sailing and I had already run aground once. I wanted to avoid doing so again, so I just dropped anchor a hundred yards off the island out in the river. Well out of the traffic channel but still feeling rather exposed.

So I anchored and got my laptop out, only to discover the missing mouse. I struggled to do my work with the notebook track pad but after a few hours it became obvious that a track pad was not database friendly. So I started trying to figure out how to get ashore and buy one.

I mention this because, the whole time I am searching for my boat I am also searching for a dingy. There is a lot to know about this thing called yachting and matching a dingy to the boat is not a trivial task. So as I am trying to find my perfect boat I am simultaneously trying to find my perfect dinghy. I studied dingy length, outboard size, how to get it onto the boat, how to get it off the boat, how to just get into and out of the damned thing for that matter. Ya know how you’re not supposed to “fall in love” with a particular boat? Well the same can be said for the dingy. And furthermore how do you decide on a dingy before you even have a boat?

Ignoring conventional wisdom, I fell in love with the Porta-bote. It ticked all the right boxes. Small when folded up. Light enough to manhandle single handed. Possible to get into and out of the waterfrom the deck of the boat. I had actually found a couple, one right on the way up to NJ. And of course they fell through. And of course in the excitement of actually owning my own boat and getting her ready I kinda lost track of “ya need a dingy.” So here I am on the third sailing day of my journey home and I could reaaaalllly use a dingy. But I didn’t have one, so now I am down to finding a place that I could dock to go mouse hunting.

The internet is a wonderful thing and I am as computer literate as they come so I am sitting at anchor, searching for a mouse anywhere close to me. Wouldncha think that Wal-Mart would have them? You’d be wrong. But of course you have to CALL Wal-Mart to discover this. And I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to call Wal-Mart, but I can tell you there are far better ways to waste the day. 4 hours later… I was finally convinced that Wal-Mart did not in fact have them. Best Buy is not near by. I am down by Delaware City and there isn’t one anywhere near by. And even if there were I would have to find a dock.

I called the client and they suggested the obvious, have one over nighted to me. Sometimes when we are in the middle of the problem the solution isn’t obvious. I placed an order with New Egg for TWO mice. I searched around for where to drop ship them. I discovered a marina in Chesapeake City, the Chesapeake Inn and Restaurant Marina. AND… it is on the way. I have to take the canal between the Delaware river and the upper Chesapeake bay and right there, on the way, is the marina. Problem solved. Two mice dropped shipped there to be delivered tomorrow.

Except that it was now late afternoon and I was getting worried about fuel. I was expecting to fuel in Cape May which hadn’t happened and I had motored half the night last night so I was pretty sure I did not want to motor all day tomorrow against who knows what current in that canal worrying about my fuel the whole time. I started searching for fuel and found it right next door to me, in the Delaware City Marina. So off I go.

The Delaware city marina is on a narrowish channel. I managed to get in ok and they tied me up and I fueled up. It was busy however and they wanted me to move so others could fuel. So they cast the lines off and I started trying to work my way out of there. Remember that vicious prop walk I mentioned? Well I had the same experience. I am trying to back up and my ass end just starts swinging around and I am pointing back out towards the delaware river. And I haven’t even paid for my fuel yet. Yea. I am heading out the way I had come in and so I just got on the vhs and told them I’d call after I anchored to pay with my credit card.

By now the sun was going down. I decided that navigating an unknown canal in the dark was not happening so I just worked my way right back to where I had anchored all day, next to that little island. I dropped anchor, called the marina and paid my bill, and spent the evening relaxing, sitting in my cockpit watching the river traffic and contemplating my navel. This had been my third day on my own actually motoring around, dropping anchor, raising anchor, motoring in for fuel and extracting myself. As long as I had help dockside it seemed to be not too bad. The solo thing meant I had to do it all on my boat but as long as I took it slow and careful I wasn’t killing myself or my boat, nor damaging anything. This sailing thing was starting to smooth out a little bit.

The next day (Thursday) I raised the anchor and motored across the Delaware and Chesapeake Canal. The canal today is 14 miles long, 450 feet wide and 35 feet deep. Construction of the original canal was begun in 1804 and after many problems was completed in 1829. That is NOT the canal I took however as it included locks and teams of horses pulling barges. It was improved many different times but in 1957 the current canal was authorized, the improvements begun in the 60s and completed in the seventies. Today, modern sea going ships come up the Chesapeake and across the canal to get to Philadelphia. Big ships. It is quite an experience to share a canal with a ship of that size. When one was heading towards me the first question I had was “what is the wake going to do to my little boat?” It turns out, not much as they aren’t going very fast and so the bow wave is not all that big. Gentle rocking is about it.

At 14 miles, the total transit time is only a few hours, and in fact I was heading to Chesapeake city, a couple of miles from the west end of the canal. It took less than 3 hours to get there and I had help waiting to take my dock lines and help me tie up. The marina is a clean, thoroughly modern place, inhabited by partiers on the weekends. TONS of boats will converge on the place Friday night and leave on Sunday night, just in for the weekend to have a good time. I arrived on Thursday and it was pretty quiet.

I went up to the restaurant and let them know to expect my package and then just relaxed. I had purchased a memory foam mattress to put in my quarter berth and so I pulled it out of the box, and pulled my existing quarter berth foam cushion to use as a template. I lay the memory foam out on the dock and let it expand out, then traced the outline of the cushion on it and hacked away with scissors. Ugly but effective. Put it back in place and put my sheets down over it and for the first time, had a really comfy bed. My v-berth was full of stuff, and in fact I don’t ever sleep there anyway. My sister promises to buy me a queen size memory foam to cut down for the v berth but she also promises to come visit and go sailing with me. Neither she nor the mattress has ever arrived. In the meantime though, I have my quarter berth which is really the best place for a single guy to sleep anyway in my opinion.

So I hung out and piddled. Filled my water tank (50 Gallon AFAICT). Ate good stuff at the restaurant. Piddled some more. The next day the mice arrived and I went to work on my client’s order.

In 2004 I was living in Litchfield CT when my client Stan approached me about building a database to allow him to deal with 65 million names and addresses, with demographic data. “Count the records in this thousand zip codes in this age bracket with this income who drinks pepsi”. Stuff like that. At that time I had never dealt with Microsoft SQL Server but that is the logical thing to use so, being very hungry and chronically underemployed, when he asked if I could do that I nodded vigorously and said Yeeeessss!!!!

I proceeded to build a server from parts from Newegg, install Windows Server 2003 X32 and SQL Server 2000. I then took his database (a single table really) and imported it into SQL Server. 65 million records with 640 fields, fixed width (ugh), waaaaaaaay bigger than anything I had handled to that point. I mentioned that I was hungry right?

Since that time we have expanded to well over 450 million records in 9 different databases, from servers with dual cores and 4 gigs of RAM to 16 cores and 80 gigs of ram, from 32 bit to 64 bit, and I have written a custom C# program to automate the process of keeping those names / addresses validated against the USPS database every month. Cool stuff and a lot of fun. And it ended up feeding my family for the next 12 years.

So I have to keep him happy!

I finished the order and hung out (the remainder of the day) until I got the OK that the order was good and I could resume my trip.

Saturday morning early I resumed my trip, motoring on out into the Chesapeake bay and heading south

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